Search billions of records on

History Of The Humboldt Area Telephones

Compiled by

Martha Roberts - 1974

Special Report


Change with continuous advancement is the story of theHumboldt Area Telephone. The period from 1903 to 1974 has been interspersedwith discouragement, recession, reorganization, change and accomplishment.During this seventy-one year period, the rural populace demonstrated theirpioneering spirit of concern for each other as they accepted the variouschanges and challenges.

The Red River Valley settlers recognized their need forbetter and faster communications immediately after R. Demars from Chicagoset up a switching center both in Pembina, ND and Hallock, Minnesota in1903. The Bell Telephone Company didn't extend its services to the ruralareas at that time. It appears that Pembina, St. Vincent and Noyes all becamea part of Pembina Exchange. So, in 1904, the rural people either had toorganize themselves into a company or not have telephone service in theirhomes.

A farmer's telephone company was developed under the leadershipof some of the early pioneers: Nels Finney, Tom Brown, J. N. Bernath, TheAshes and others. It was known as the Northern Telephone Company. This areaextended from the Canadian Border south to the Hallock franchise area, eastto the Lancaster franchise area and west to the Red River which at thattime formed a very natural barrier. They sold stock to finance the companyand operated for 41 years. They built their own telephone lines, installedtheir rented instruments, took care of the line and rented the Pembina BellTelephone switching services. At that time, each line had from 20 to 25patrons on a given party line. The instrument hung on the wall and was rungby hand. The central connected them with parties on another line. Theirnumbers were like 6F24. It is said the telephone reached the village ofHumboldt about 1908. Some of the early line men were Jim Turner and TomAsh who lost his life while on the job in 1929.

As a young man Warren Griffith, now of Pembina, assistedwith the line work and also did some electrical work for the Bell TelephoneCompany in Pembina. He became interested in the company and finally boughtall the existing stock from Mrs. Jessie Bernath in 1944.

About 1953, he called a meeting of all the patrons andoffered to sell them the telephone business which he owned. After severalmeetings, the community divided itself into three segments. The Red RiverCommunity, the Joe River Community and the Humboldt Community. It seemedto be divided according to existing interests. Each community met and organizedthemselves as they wished. All of them continued to use the Pembina switchingservice. However, the Pembina switching service was moved to Grafton locationin 1955, when the automatic dial system was installed. These three companiesused the Grafton services until they became a part of the Crookston systemin 1970.

The Red River Community met on November 16, 1953 in RoyClow's garage to organize themselves. Those present included Walter Clow,Arthur Flanke, Walter Loer, Albert Clow, John Rueff, Wilbert Hemmes, OleBergh, Roy Clow, Herman Loer, Everet Johnston, James Bernath, George Franks,Simon Dykhuis, Henry Dykhuis, William Gatheridge, John Hemmes, E. L. Feick,Lawrence Turner, Harris Easton, John McGlashen, James Campbell, A. H. Rustad,Sr., Earl Babcock, and Ted Ryan. They elected to form a co-operative. ByDecember 17, they were ready to consider their articles of co-operationunder the leadership of Wilbert Hemmes and Walter Clow. During the winter,they constructed their own lines, they installed the instruments which theyhad rented from the Bell Telephone company for $9.00 a year. Their localcharge was $11 from which they paid for their switching services and theirline service. So, for about $20 a year, the patrons enjoyed a dial telephonesystem with only eight patrons on each line. This continued until 1970 whenBell Telephone took over.

On October 26, 1970, they were instructed to take downtheir existing lines. Each patron was paid ninety cents an hour for takingdown his lines. Their final meeting was on February 6, 1971.

The Joe River Community elected to become the Joe RiverTelephone Association. On November 18, 1953, they elected a Board of Directors:Lawrence Ward, Swan Anderson, Arlow Bergh, Herb Johnston and Rodney Webster.Lawrence Ward, president and Rodney Webster, secretary-treasurer retainedtheir positions for the duration. After Swan Anderson moved to Noyes, hewas replaced by Harold Finney in 1959. Swan Anderson was the original vicepresident, he was replaced by Arlow Bergh.

In this Association, each subscriber paid $200. they alsopaid $26.35 annually for their telephone service. This price never changed.They had 32 subscribers when they organized, it rose to 34 and dropped to28 when they disbanded.

They dissolved officially in July 1970 when Bell TelephoneCompany took over the Association's business. This local group also tookcare of their own line demolition.

The Humboldt Community elected to become a corporation.The Humboldt Telephone Company sold $150 stock to each patron, payable withinsix years. They too, paid $9 a year for switching services and $3 a yearfor instrument rental. But they charged each patron $30 annually. They,in turn, hired a lineman for about $700 a year. The Village of Humboldtbecame a part of this company. Humboldt had gotten its original telephoneservice about 1908. They too, elected a Board of Directors. Earl Bahr wasthe president and Carl Gatheridge was the secretary-treasurer. However,they changed officers from time to time. They increased from 35 to 48 phonesduring their operation.

At the time of dissolution of the company, each stockholderwas reimbursed his amount of investment plus some interest.

All three companies functioned much the same way. Theyrented their instruments and hired their switching services from North Dakota,became a part of an 8 party line with dial services, maintained their ownlines, collected from their subscribers, and enjoyed the services of a telephonein their own home.

In 1955, the switching services were moved from Pembina,North Dakota to Grafton. Mr. Kalbrinner, from Grafton was the co-ordinatorfor all three companies. He only assisted with the work when the local fellowscouldn't cope with a given problem. Later on, Ronald Clow, Pembina, joinedthe staff.

The final change came in 1970. This time the Bell TelephoneCompany became a vital part of the change for they took over all three companies.The villages of St. Vincent and Noyes remained with the North Dakota company,but Humboldt and the rural area became a part of the Minnesota Company withthe switching services at Crookston, Minnesota.

At this time the lines went underground. Direct dialingwas installed and put into service at least partially in 1972. The threecompanies sold out and dissolved each in its own way.

This final change has put the world's communication systemat the finger tips of every telephone patron, if he just has the correctnumber.


Based on telephone conversations March - 1974

Ash, Wm. S., St. Vincent, Minnesota

Bahr, Earl, Humboldt, Minnesota

Dykhuis, William, Humboldt, Minnesota

Gatheridge, Carl, Humboldt, Minnesota

Gooselaw, Jim (Mrs.), St. Vincent, Minnesota

Griffith, Warren, Pembina, North Dakota

Ward, Lawrence, St. Vincent, Minnesota

Ward, Willis, St. Vincent, Minnesota

Webster, Jean, St. Vincent, Minnesota


Ward, Willis, St. Vincent, Minnesota

Webster, Jean, St. Vincent, Minnesota